April 6, 2008
Notes from the PCA/ACA National Conference: An Introduction

Last month, I spent several days in San Francisco for the Popular Culture Association and the American Culture Association's annual joint national conference. The PCA/ACA conference is an interesting conference. First, it's greatest benefit and its greatest drawback is that it is huge. There's enough room for an array of topics, from television and film to literature to sports to more "off-the-beaten-path" subjects such as motorcycle studies, fat studies, gravemarker studies, and so on.

That means, first of all, a variety of sub-disciplines and interests can basically co-opt the conference as their own, make use of the conference as housing their mini-conference they could never organize on their own. For instance, the appeal for me to attend the event is that it is the only conference I know of that allows the room for those studying soap operas in particular to have their own area, to get together from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. and share their work.

Another thing to keep in mind if ever attending the PCA/ACA national conference is that little, if anything, is turned away from the conference. This is not a closely guarded conference in terms of the subjects and presenters that are allowed to participate. That can of course have major drawbacks in terms of quality control for listeners, in that there's no guarantee attending a panel will mean that even a marginally interesting paper will be presented in some cases. But it's also liberating because of the diversity of voices that are included. There are a fair number of independent scholars who present at the PCA/ACA, for instance. And there are a number of first time presenters, not just graduate students but undergraduates as well. I find it a great remedy for many conference circuits which seem more like the established talking to one another.

After all, it was not that long ago I was an undergraduate looking to break into the academic conference circuit myself, and the PCA/ACA national conference was my first foray as well. In fact, I made a friend that first year--in San Antonio back in 2004--that remains to this day, and I heard some interesting papers on pro wrestling.

I noted in planning for the PCA/ACA that there was only one C3 Consulting Researcher in addition to me presenting at this conference, but Ted Hovet wasn't able to make it either, due to a family emergency. I did get a chance to catch up with a few people I wouldn't have seen at conferences such as the PCA/ACA. And I heard interesting work from new voices I hadn't met before, which was the reason why I attended. For instance, the WKU professors I know used it as a chance to highlight the work of students they work with, such as the panels Tony Harkins and Karen Schneider led, primarily with WKU graduates and alum presenting some of their latest research.

This weekend, I want to dedicate several posts to publishing my notes from that conference and some of the interesting people I met up with over that weekend in San Francisco. For people who want to know more about the PCA/ACA, see my prior posts about presentations at the conference here and here, and see my posts about my 2006 presentation and 2007 presentation as well.